My positive feelings toward the project quickly faded five months later when the rainbow path was realised, not between Sanders and Mandeville, but on the slope of the Institutenlaan: one of the least accessible parts of our campus for people with mobility issues. Apparently, the university thought it wise to place this symbol of inclusivity in a location notorious for excluding a specific group of people – a location which many of them have in fact long wished to see redesigned, so that they too can easily and independently go from one side of the campus to the other.
Ironically, with an expensive three-layered special coating in the way, such a redesign now seems more remote than before. On top of that, the rainbow path initially even worsened the physical accessibility of the Institutenlaan, as its slipperiness created an additional obstacle when crossing the campus – particularly when it rained, which (surprise!) happens quite a lot in the Netherlands, and which is already a challenge when using a wheelchair as it can easily make you lose your grip. And so, only a month (and some falls) later, the university has now had another layer added to the path’s coating, in an attempt to fix the slipperiness.
Known for its exclusion
About a month before the path was completed, the rector magnificus announced that the Executive Board adopted an action plan to improve physical accessibility. Creating new barriers to redesigning poorly accessible parts of the campus does not seem like a great start. On an emotional level, it comes across as rather inconsiderate (and a bit silly) to place a symbol of inclusivity on a location known for its exclusion. Now, every time I’m pushing my wheelchair up that slope, I can rejoice in being reminded of the value that EUR places on inclusion.
Not that I have anything against the rainbow path itself: I still think it’s a good idea. Whenever I’m teaching or doing research, I try to make sure that everyone feels included, and I like to think that the university shares that goal. However, I do think that they made an error in judgement when deciding to assign the rainbow path to its current spot, without any regard for one of the (remarkably many) accessibility nightmares that have been present on our campus for as long as I can remember.
This judgement error also reveals the bigger issue at play: the university’s efforts and policies on inclusion are themselves not inclusive. Or as Saskia Bonjour noticed two years ago: universities’ diversity policies fall curiously short on diversity. With regard to inclusion, the focus of the EUR in general and the Diversity & Inclusion office in particular has been primarily on gender, and at times in recent years on ethnic background and sexual orientation. Other individual differences that may impact student and staff progress and well-being, such as having a disability, hardly ever receive the attention they deserve. The Team Studying with a Functional Impairment, who are responsible for supporting students with disabilities at EUR, try their best. But there is only so much you can do when the higher-ups have other priorities.
And it’s not that comprehensive plans for improving the physical accessibility of the campus haven’t been proposed already. Just three years ago an inventory was compiled of poorly accessible spaces on campus, none of them compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and a budget was proposed for fixing them. But management said ‘no’. And contrary to the rainbow path proposal, they did not reconsider.
part of special
Studying with a functional impairment
What is it like to study with a disability? Often there are extra challenges, and many…
Not the best start
I don’t like being angry – and I really can’t afford it either. If I got angry every time I encountered poorly accessible infrastructure, there would be very little time left in my day for more meaningful activities. Furthermore, barring the issues surrounding accessibility, I like this university. I have nice colleagues and great students, and I enjoy the work that I do. However, it is high time for the EUR to start practising what it preaches. In the wake of the Dutch Accessibility Week 2022 (which the EUR regretfully paid zero attention to), I ask the Executive Board to follow through with what they have been saying for a while now: that accessibility (not only for those with mobility issues but for everyone) will be improved. Sure, spraying three layers of expensive and slippery paint on an already poorly accessible passage was not the best start. But it shouldn’t be hard to do better.
Kristel de Groot promoveert aan de Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) en de Erasmus School of Economics (ESE).